Saturday, August 11, 2012

Same Characters, Different Authors?

Scott D. Parker

Maybe this is sacrilege, but have you ever wanted to see Philip Marlowe written by another author? A Stephanie Plum adventure not written by Janet Evanovich? The Continental Op written by someone other than Dashiell Hammett?

I got to thinking about this idea in light of my reading choices for this summer: Gabriel Hunt and Batman. For the better part of four months now, I have been immersed in old Batman comics, primarily ones from the 1970s. Can't say for sure how this desire started, but I've run with it. In this re-reading of my old titles--this fun time in Bat-History a few years after the cancellation of the Adam West TV show and more than a decade from the mid-80s Frank Miller-penned books that permanently changed the way Batman was viewed not only by the public but by DC Comics--where Batman re-discovered not only his brooding nature but also his detective abilities.

I've also run with the neo-pulp adventures of Gabriel Hunt, a character created by Hard Case Crime co-founder, Charles Ardai, back in 2009. I quickly read the first two book in this six-book series, but the remaining four remained unread until this summer. Back in early June, I looked over the books I have on my Nook and, upon seeing Book #3, Hunt at World's End, decided to give it a quick review. It hooked me and I blew through to the end of the series in no time.

Why do I bring these up? Because different writers have penned stories about the same character. There's a basic bible of the Bat-verse and the Hunt-verse that contains all the fundamental characteristics of each respective world. From there, using a basic character arc outline, various authors have written stories set in that universe.

Often, with the Bat books, one has to be a pretty decent comic fan to discern the differences between authors. Not so the Hunt books. Each of the six authors of those books put their own, discernible stamp on the prose and character of Gabriel Hunt. I'll admit that one or two of them were more difficult to wade through even though all six books are action-packed. And I could tell, at the start of each book, whether or not I was going to like the author. It was a dreadful feeling when I struggled.

Bringing me back to my opening, you ever wonder why authors don't let other writers touch their creations? The easy answer is, obviously, that authors spend lots of time creating a character, a universe, and a brand for themselves. After that hard work, naturally, one wants to be protective. But just the idea of some "dream" cross-collaborations is nirvana for crime readers. Don Winslow writing a Travis McGee book, James Reasoner writing a Doc Savage adventure, or Louise Penny crafting a Hercule Poirot yarn. How about some more out-there pairings: Ken Bruen working on Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Anthony Horowitz writing about Wallander, or the aforementioned Evanovich taking on J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas.

The ideas are endless. Musicians collaborate, filmmakers collaborate, and television folk collaborate: why not authors?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Who Killed the Chauffeur (and who cares?)

Russel D McLean

Check out Russel's new website (and blog) at

In The Big Sleep, there’s a great moment when Marlowe is called out to the murder of the Sternwood family Chauffeur. It’s a great scene and one that serves to move the story forward, but rumour has it that when Howard Hawks was filming the movie, he called Chandler and asked,

Who killed the Chauffeur?

And it’s a fair question. No one really knows. And the rumour is that Chandler himself responded quite blithely that he didn’t either, making it just another instance of his maxim that when the plot slows down you have a man walk through the door with a gun*

It’s a massive plot hole, or at least certain readers may consider it as such. But you know, I like it. I like it a lot because it makes me think of life.

In life nobody knows everything.

And nobody gets to know everything.

I like to leave a few loose ends in my novels. Of course, given that I’m writing a sequence in the McNee books, one or two of those get picked up later. A few questions from The Lost Sister will be answered in Father Confessor (but yet a few more might be raised), but sometimes there are things that you don’t need to know. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know them. And its more fun if you can argue or conjecture about what really happened.

Moving up to the modern age (ish), one of my favourite ever episodes of the Sopranos (me and ten million others) was the one where Paulie and Christopher take a Russian out to the woods to kill him. He escapes, they think they shoot him in the head, but then they can’t find the body. They get lost in the woods. They go through real bad times. But they don’t find the Russian. They don’t know if he’s dead or alive. But the point of the story is not the Russian, but how they cope with being lost in the cold and alone with each other. Oh, and by the way, if you have never watched the Sopranos here is your spoiler alert.

 Lots of people spent the rest of the series conjecturing whether the Russian was really dead, and what might happen if he returned. But he never did. And nothing ever came of the fact they killed this guy. Because it didn’t matter. And because, well, why would anything have come of that? It’s a fine dramatic line between thematic webs and daft coincidence. And the fact that we never really did know about the Russian was brilliant. Because it felt real. Because sometimes in life, you do things, or you see things, and they don’t come back to haunt you in some ironic way or have any real impact on anything again even if, in a made-up, all-the-dots-connect-world they surely should have.

Now I’m not saying I do anything as well as either of these examples, or that I use such extremes, but I do believe that sometimes you don’t have to know everything for a story to work. In fact I’d rather not be told everything and be able to imagine a world that continues beyond the confines of what I’ve seen of it.

And, really, I don’t care who killed the Chauffeur, but I do care that it got Marlowe to the right place at the right time to answer the bigger questions. And that while we never found out who did it, it didn’t feel forced or unnatural. In fact, it felt real.

*metaphorically speaking

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Letting Go

By Jay Stringer

By now readers will have come to expect that I'll stray off topic quite often here at DSD. But these last couple of weeks it's served a good purpose. With Old Gold coming out last month -and all that entailed- I knew I needed to think a few things through and see how my views on publishing would change as published.

It turns out that having your first book published is basically like going through puberty a second time. The emotions get a little heightened, your sleep pattern gets weird, you grow a silly looking beard, and you develop a new line in self-doubt. So I should say a quick thank you to the support network. There were a lot of people who did their bit last month, from people who fielded crazy emails, to the many bloggers, reviewers and interviewers who spent their own free time helping me get my name out there.

Another thing I should say is that anyone who won competitions, or who was otherwise promised signed books, sit tight- they are signed and ready, and I'm making daily trips to the post office.

Something that Joelle commented on once, I believe, is the change from being a writer to being an author. It's one thing to be told that will happen, it's another to experience it and think, whoa. There are so many things to do that are not writing; interviews, promotions, posting, selling, copy-editing, phone calls. Each one is a fun experience in it's own right, and no author should moan about them, but they can also be a large distraction from the job of putting words on a blank page.

More than that there is a change in your thinking. Where once my agent would get random emails from me talking about story ideas, character names, or strawberry milkshake, now it's about sales figures, plans to diversify my career, and the best time of the month to give interviews.

Again each one is a fun and welcome experience, but each one takes time away from the words-on-a-page thing.

And here's where I realised something.

We're all familiar with the debates that the internet likes to have over publishing. And we're all familiar with the cast of characters who take part in these debates. One of the roles that has to be filled is the self-publishing author who seems more obsessed with marketing and sales than with writing and story*.

I used to think that the hardest challenge I was going to have to face in this here career was learning when to let go. And I was half right. I thought it would be about the content of the book; when is a story finished? How often can I return to rewrite it? When do I click 'send' and make it my editors problem? What I've found is that 'letting go' has a whole other dimension to it, and I think this is where the above 'role' comes from.

Writing a book is not something you do for instant gratification. It's a slow and muddled experience, piling words up higher and higher above you and making sure to do it in such a way that they won't collapse. Depending on your process it can take anywhere from a month to a year, and can be very hard to feel like you're accomplishing anything, especially when you're stuck in the mire of ACT 2 and each step forward is followed by two steps back.

That all changes once the book is out there.

There are sales ranks and reviews. You can make a comment on twitter and see an almost instant reaction. You have people sending you messages to say that they're holding your book in their hands, or that they've just ordered it. You can find a sense of achievement every day, just by selling another copy, or seeing another interview get published, and by thinking up new ways to market your work in real-time.

And far more than any of the other distractions, that can be a difficult thing to pull away from. It's far more tempting to sit and send out tweets and watch your Amazon sales rank change in response, than to sit with that blank page and start again from scratch. It's fun to ride that train for a time, but you have to learn to step off and get back work.

*Note, this isn't me calling any particular person out for that, or saying that all self-pubbing authors are like that (I have a self published ebook myself) but I do think it's fair to say that role exists, and gets filled each time one of the debates comes up.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Entry Music For A Writer

By Steve Weddle

So Chris F. Holm listed his “5 Favorite Musical Artists of Author Chris F. Holm” and, inasmuch as the list follows the title, I assume he is correct. I have no reason to doubt that these are Mr. Holm’s favorites. Perhaps he had originally thought REO Speedwagon or Air Supply could creep in around the top of the list, but wanted to maintain his street cred. I have no way of knowing this for certain, though. This was a list for a writer, Chris F. Holm. (PS Buy this book.)

Music for writers is different. Perhaps music for swimmers is different still. Music for neurosurgeons. If either one of my current psychiatrists were to tell me that his favorite musical artist happened to be, say, Nine Inch Nails, that would cause me some concern.

I wrote many stories this past year or two after getting some Drive-By Truckers stuck in my head. Frankie Bill sent along a CD with “Decoration Day” on it, and I misheard the line “The state let him go, but I guess it was best cause nobody needs all us Lawsons alive.” To my hear, the line ended “nobody needs all this loss in his life.” That sent me off writing a story about a man who tries to fake bravery to help his son.

I imagine that happens to most writers. You hear a line, rightly or wrongly, and it pushes into you, earworm.

While we’re hanging out in the “D” section of the library, I should mention The Decemberists, Dawes, Damien Rice, Dog’s Eye View, Dead Milkmen, and probably many others.

From “That Western Skyline” by Dawes, via John Hornor Jacobs:
So I followed her here to Birmingham, where the soil is so much richer
And though my aching pride might guide my hand, she did not ask for me to come.
So I wait for her all through the day, as if I wait for her surrender.
And every time I get her to look my way, she says I'm not where I belong.
But I watch her father preach on Sundays.
I know the hymnals all by heart.
But oh Lou, no my dreams did not come true.
No, they only came apart.

The best songs, the best songs for writers, are those that not only tell a story, but make you want to tell a story. Tom Waits. Bob Dylan. Afghan Whigs. The Avett Brothers. Dinosaur Jr. Pixies. Elvis Costello. Neko Case. Hub. Steve Earle. Emmylou Harris.

Maybe when I’m doing the actual writing, I’d rather have Gould’s Goldberg in my ear. (Not the more recent version, of course. Blech.)

But when I’m letting my brain mush slosh around a bit, ready to sponge up bits here and there, I’d rather listen to some Iron & Wine, Gillian Welch, or Justin Townes Earle.

The best songs, for writers, end up being writing prompts, with a little banjo on the side.

It seems like the unraveling has started too soon,

Now I'm sleeping in hallways and I'm drinking perfume.

Dave's Not Here

Knock Knock.
Who is it?
It's Dave, man. Open up.
Dave's not here.

Dave's off not having a baby. So today, let's enjoy the work the folks over at The Millions did putting together another list of great lit tumblrs.

The Great Taxonomy of Literary Tumblrs: Round Two

By  posted at 6:00 am on August 7, 2012 1
coverSix months ago, I rounded up a list of my favorite literary Tumblr accounts. Half a year later, I’m pleased to see those blogs still going strong. I’m also pleased to see that a pile of the names on my Wish List came around to the land of likes and reblogs. In that regard, some shout outs are in order: Picador Book Room (and its “Sunday Sontags”) has become a favorite of The Millions’ social media team;The Strand made its way onto the blogging platform and we’re all better because of it; Poetry Magazine continues to draw from its enviable archives to bring some really exciting content to our Dashboard; and — whether it’s due to my friendly dig or their own volition — The Paris Review’s presence has been especially awesome of late. Indeed, the literary community on Tumblr is growing stronger by the day, and it has to be noted that a lot of that growth is due to Rachel Fershleiser’s evangelism and infectious enthusiasm. (An example of Rachel’s work was recapped recently by Millions staffer Lydia Kiesling as part of our own Emily M. Keeler’s Tumblr-centric #LitBeat column.)
Alas, six months in the real world is different from six months online, and Tumblr now has not only its own Storyboard curatorial system (run by the vaguely Soviet-soundingDepartment of Editorial), but it’s also grown by a few million blogs. The site boasts a growing number of blogs that have inked book deals. Rachel maintains a running tally of poets andwriters who use the platform. This past week, Molly Templeton organized a blog, The How-To Issue, specifically aimed at countering the gender imbalance in the recent “How-To” installment of The New York Times Book Review. As a testament to the number of smart, engaged literary folks on the site, that blog has since received posts from a Salon writer, a former New Yorker staffer, and quite a few artists and freelancers.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Never Underestimate Your Audience

We've been watching Heroes with the kids.    I've never seen beyond season 1, and we're almost at the end of the first season now, so all I know of the show is limited.

However, as we were watching the last episode we saw together, Patrick asked a question.

"If Peter can regenerate how come he has a scar?"

As it turns out, this had been the subject of online debate and discussion long before our viewing with the kids, but I'm not really concerned with the answer at this point.  What stood out in my mind is the simple truth that if you don't maintain your own internal consistency, or explain a significant change, the audience disengages from the story.  It loses some of the intrigue and adoration of fans when they're pulled out of the story and legitimately think the writer has made a mistake.

I think, if you've been reading everyone's posts on The Dark Knight Rises, some might argue that the final installment of the trilogy lost the plot.  I didn't see it that way, but it took seeing the movie a second time to be able to fully explain why.  There was one critical detail near the end I hadn't really processed the first time around, but it made the end make sense to me.  I take no conclusion as absolute - not that Bruce wouldn't return, not that "Robin" wasn't about the become the next Batman - and so I'm not as bothered by the ending as some have been.  In fact, I liked it, and the audience in two packed theaters both times I saw the movie cheered. 

They were certainly satisfied.

That said, I think it's often easier to have the audience overlook character consistency and some plot holes in movies, and to a lesser extent, on TV.  In books, readers are far more likely to skim back and double-check.

My advice to writers is simple.  Don't underestimate your audience - we have a ten-year-old and eleven-year-old critiquing book and TV stories in this house, and no, just because they're kids doesn't mean they'll read anything and think it's okay.  If they think it's crap, they'll tell us why.  That's how a huge fan of The Hunger Games ended up giving up on the third book in the series.  It didn't hold up.

The other tip I have is to know what the core of your story is.  If you do, it makes it harder to lose the plot... If an 11-year-old can notice when it doesn't hold together and make sense just imagine what an editor or agent will say if your story doesn't stand up against its own established internal truths.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Debate or damage?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I love debate.  Even if I agree with someone, I am happy to debate the other side of the argument just because it allows me to look at something from a new point of view.  That may not change my mind, but seeing an issue from all sides is the best way to understand it.  Personally, I think that the more information I have, the better I can make a decision.

Unfortunately, no matter what the issue – self-publishing, which books should be eligible for what awards, politics, fast-food CEOs and their religious beliefs—I have found that a great number of people do not take care with the words they use when discussing the topic at hand.  I have seen US political leaders likened to Hitler (which—yes, we have problems, but NO none of our current US leaders are killing millions in gas chambers) and publishers referred to as the devil.  The employees at the polarizing fast food chain (and if you’ve lived in a bubble this past week and don’t know which one I mean – I’m jealous!) have been called evil for needing their paycheck and have been praised by some patrons for beliefs that they do not support.  And up and down my Facebook newsfeed I see messages that bash those who do not hold the same political or social ideals.


Technology is wonderful.  It puts information at our fingertips.  We get to communicate via Skype and social media with people we might otherwise forget to pick up the phone to call.  However, technology—specifically social media, websites and blogs, have given many the impression that because they are communicating to the masses via a screen that their message doesn’t not do damage.  They throw around highly charged words like “Hilter and “Against God” and call people who hold certain beliefs names all the while not believing that they are doing anything wrong.

And maybe you don’t believe they are because—hey—the first amendment says that we all have the freedom of speech.  Do I believe in free speech?  Hell, yes!  But I would argue that much of the discourse I have seen could be considered a form of bullying.  It is one thing to say “I support this idea.”  It is quite another to say that anyone who supports something else is ignorant or evil.  Saying that there are questions you have about publishing or self-publishing is valid.  Saying that anyone who makes a choice to traditionally publish is an idiot and is a traitor to their creativity is just silly.  And let’s not get me started on what people were saying this week about those who supported the fast food chain and those who protested it.

People!  Yes, there is free speech.  Yes, I believe in it.  People I know and love have gone to war and fought for our right to have that privilege.  But they didn’t put their lives on the line just so people on Facebook could browbeat and bully their friends who dare not agree with their stance on certain issues. 

As writers, we know that words matter.  Words can evoke tears.  Prompt laughter.  Cause pain.  Whether face to face or behind a screen, words should be chosen with care.  Debate should be encouraged, but while debating we should hold ourselves to the standard that we would hold our children to.  Think of many of the posts that you see by your friends on Facebook, on blogs or on other social media sites today.  How many of those if posted by a teenager to their friends would be considered belittling or bullying?  How many could cause them trouble with parents or get them expelled?

So, I will say it again—words matter.  Please, choose the words you use with care.  By doing so, you will encourage others to do the same.  Once we have taken the anger and intent to damage out of our discourse, debate is possible.  And debate—a true exchange of ideas—is a wonderful thing.